BRUSSELS/BERLIN: Pakistan was given extension in the Generalized Scheme of Preference Plus (GSP+), which translates to the success of democratic government of the country and their diplomatic wing in Brussels, yet EU policy makers have warned that the extension should not be taken for granted and is in fact meant to be a chance for the country to fix its deteriorating state of human and minorities rights. While talking to Daily Times in view of the registration of a latest blasphemy case in Lahore against a Christian teenager, one of whose cousins later fell off the fourth floor of the FIA building during interrogations under mysterious circumstances, all within a week of the GSP+ extension, Member of European Parliament from the East Midlands Emma McClarkin stated that EU recognised that more had to be done by Pakistan on core issues like blasphemy laws, freedom of expression and death penalty, among others. “We believe it would be counter-productive at this stage to launch any kind of withdrawal procedure as it would harm the most poor and vulnerable in the country,” the EU parliamentarian explained referring to GSP+ extension. She asserted that whilst it is important to take into account the general security situation of the country and necessary anti-terrorism operations, the EU recognised that more had to be done in key areas with improved engagement on issues at the federal level to ensure actions at the provincial stage. “We are well aware that Pakistan is the biggest GSP+ beneficiary in terms of volumes of trade and we welcome the robust mechanisms put in place to ensure the monitoring and implementation of the 27 GSP+ relevant conventions,” she stated, adding that insufficient implementation of international and national laws in Pakistan was still an issue that EU was concerned about. She also emphasized improvement in reporting system regarding the implementation of commitments under the GSP+ scheme from provincial to federal level. “We continue to exercise pressure on Pakistan to deliver on its commitments – for us the most important is to see a sincere commitment, and progress on these issues,” Emma McClarkin concluded. The chairman of the Friends of Pakistan group and a member of EU parliament from Britain Dr Sajjad Kareem had announced the news about extension of GSP+ programme for Pakistan after a meeting with GSP+ monitoring committee chairman Christopher Fjellner and EU’s international trade committee (INTA) chief Bernard Lange. Sajjad Kareem told an Urdu daily in an interview that anti-Pakistan forces tried their best to attach the country with three others who were denied extension this year however, they could not succeed at the end. EU is emerging as the biggest economic partner of Pakistan after United States seems to be drifting away from its status as the key partner, with the Trump administration halting the country’s military aid and now trying to put Pakistan on terror financing watch list after the Paris meeting of Financial Action Task Force, a global body that combats terrorist financing and money laundering. Extension of GSP+ has been a sigh of relief for Pakistan under current circumstances. However, Pakistan may have to drastically improve in certain areas before the next GSP+ extension review takes place in two years. Daily Times has also learnt through discussions among MEPs that they will seek greater say for human rights defenders and civil society organisations during the next extension debate in two years. “We are of the opinion that more NGOs and human rights defenders should have been given a chance to share their stories with the commissioners and INTA members,” one of the emails issued by an MEP to INTA, and obtained by Daily Times, reads. The email further mentions, “We feel that it is necessary for the situation in Pakistan, especially with respect to freedom of thought conscience, religion and belief, to be brought to the attention of the commissioner (Cecilia Malmström), and for her to understand that we in the Parliament are not willing to overlook human rights abuses in the name of trade.” The only human rights organisation INTA Committee gave access to speak on GSP+ was a Berlin-based organisation called Democracy Reporting International (DRI) and their GSP+ programme chief Laura Battistin told Daily Times that she spoke on several human rights and democracy related issues generally about all GSP+ beneficiary countries. “We believe that GSP+ has great potential to contribute to the progresses in the implementation of international standards in the beneficiary countries, but the scheme could benefit from some improvements,” Battistin stated, adding that she advocating for more say of civil society organisations in GSP+ affairs. She was of the view that more effective and strategic involvement of CSOs in the monitoring process would strengthen the GSP+ programme and partner countries. DRI representative also urged EU to established transparent mechanism to trigger official investigations of countries in case of non-compliance and the possibility to modulate the measures with partial withdrawal from the scheme. Battistin said that her organisation was also for active engagement with all the relevant stakeholders on human and labour rights discussion. Published in Daily Times, February 25th 2018.